Bacta to challenge UK government over ‘discriminatory’ AGC reopening

Bacta has begun a legal challenge regarding the reopening of adult gaming centres in England, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week outlined the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

This saw April 12 set as the date for betting shops in the country to reopen, with AGCs, bingo halls and casinos scheduled to follow suit on May 17.

Subsequently, Bacta has instructed global legal firm DWF Law to challenge the thinking behind the delayed reopening of AGCs after all other non-essential retail businesses.

The letter, addressed to Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, says that the group “cannot ignore the decision’s discriminatory impact and the long term hit to the AGC industry which would flow from it”.

Noting that events surrounding the pandemic “are of course unprecedented,” it adds that “the government is still required to exercise its decision-making rationally, in a non-discriminatory way and in accordance with legitimate expectations.”

Suggesting that the decision to delay opening of AGCs is irrational, the perceived discrimination is said to be “highlighted by the decision to allow LBOs to open earlier” for which it says that it “has never been told any good reason” for.

The letter goes on to comment: “It therefore remains plain that the disparity is not based on any good evidence justifying it. Even when the point was specifically raised as a parliamentary question, tabled on February 19, 2021, Nigel Huddleston MP only noted that the ‘roadmap has been informed by the latest scientific evidence and seeks a balance between our key social and economic priorities, while preserving the health and safety of the country’. 

“That response does not, however, provide any real clarity on the point, nor does it explain the disparity of treatment, in particular, between AGCs and LBOs.”

John White, CEO of Bacta, added: “We are doing everything we can to focus attention on the unfair, and we believe illegal, treatment of AGCs in the reopening roadmap. The decision to prevent this one venue on the High Street from opening with all other retailers is not only discriminatory, evidence for it is absent and it lacks any logic. 

“We have decided to take legal action and were heartened by the government’s U-turn following the Sacha Lord case, where the Greater Manchester night-time economy advisor brought a court case against Matt Hancock on behalf of the hospitality industry and won. 

“This case also mentioned the discriminatory impacts of closure decisions as contributing to the government’s decision being unlawful, as did the complete lack of evidence to justify it – in this case the requirement to have a substantial meal with a drink when the tier system was brought in, which Lord successfully argued discriminated against certain ‘sections of society’ as thousands of pubs were forced to close.”